Here's My Story #7: A writer-editor on the death of her mother and her journey through grief
In her own words
It is two weeks shy of seven months since my mother passed away. Those four words "my mother passed away" are still surreal to me. In my mind, she has gone for a very long holiday where she is not texting to update me.
It is still too raw, too new, and too painful to deal with it. I miss her physical presence.
A few weeks after the funeral, I googled "My mother is dead. What do I do now?" The entries that turned up were matter of fact. I read that my world view will be less bright, everything I experience will have a hue of sadness, and that I am now part of a club no one wants to be in — the ones who know what grief is.
My uncle summed up my experience during the funeral poignantly. He said, "You don't gradually grow up. It's a sudden change from today to tomorrow. You are suddenly an adult." That was exactly what I felt when my world crashed down on me that mum was no more.
You see, mum was preparing to go for chemotherapy although she vehemently didn't want to. And I had prepared myself and settled into the reality that my life will stop momentarily once again (my father had been in hospital for months with serious complications that same year) for me to look after mum. I was OK with that.
My mum was a fighter. She battled two types of cancers in a span of 10 years, had a triple heart bypass in her mid-50s, and diabetes. She did all she could to control it all from following what her doctors said, endless amounts of medication, and trying too many alternative and natural therapies. Mum dispensed her own doctor-type advice whenever she could. She meant well, it did get annoying, but that was her, sharing what she thought was good advice.
In the end, it was her heart that gave way. The woman with a big heart. I remember asking the doctor, "What was the point of it all if it was her heart that was just going to stop?" I will never forget the look of all the hospital staff at the ICU when I arrived after they called me to come fast. I will never forget the kind voices and gentle touches the doctors and nurses gave to comfort me. I will never forget watching her lifeline slow down to tiny peaks, and then flat line. I will never forget I was alone with her the night before when I took her to A&E (my first time riding in an ambulance) and alone with her when she was already gone and it was the machines keeping her 'alive.'
I feel she didn't want to suffer anymore and I think she went in the best painless way possible. I do feel my heart is full when I think of her knowing she's better off. But without her, despite our differences, I feel lost, abandoned, and alone.
The second after my father and helper left ICU, I went into serious work mode. I had to organise everything from the wake, funeral, Sikh temple prayers, informing my brothers and relatives who live overseas to the obituary. My cousin in Singapore helped a lot by driving me everywhere and doing the funeral rites with me. My friends kept me fed. Everyone said it was a beautiful funeral and mum looked great. They also said they had not ever seen me so dogged in making sure things ran smoothly. I was running on adrenaline and was almost chirpy. I felt I had to hold it together so everyone else could break down.
In the weeks after, I took over mum's role with the running of the household — something I had not ever done before. I had to take over the planning of meals and groceries with my helper for my father, the administration of mum's accounts, bills, appointments, and the maintenance of the home my dad and I live in. I admit I am a princess but when the queen is gone, I was thrust into taking on her role — a role I don't want.
During the eulogies at the funeral, I had said that I want mum to be celebrated not mourned. She did live an amazing life despite her health issues. I decided I was still going to celebrate Diwali (or Deepavali), but only with my closest circle of friends. The ones who were there for me throughout the horrendous 2019 I experienced. The silver lining to all this is the friends who are my soulmates, who are more than family. I cannot appreciate them more, nor be grateful enough for them.
This year, all I wanted was to be around my relatives especially her side of the family with my aunties, uncle and cousins. Unfortunately, with the current situation in the world, that isn't possible. But that's OK. I have my besties who I talk to everyday, I have exciting experiences to look forward to despite feeling anxious and sad, and I strive to feel better about everything. Therapy helps, talking to those you love helps, and doing something productive or creative everyday helps, too.
The one major change for me is not being afraid of death anymore. I used to be terrified of the idea of it because I felt I hadn't fully lived. But now, it's different. I know who's on the other side and that makes it less scary.
At the end of the prayers in the Sikh temple, the priest said in his sermon about a soul being a bird that flies off to its next destination when one passes away. It's the body that dies, not the soul. Mum loved birds and nature. This was an apt ending for her. This was also when I finally broke down in front of everyone. I had had my private sessions with mum too, but this was when the stoic daughter broke.
My journey with grief isn't over and I don't think it will ever be. I see mum in a lot of things around me and in some of my behaviours. She will never leave me, I will never leave her, but I will remember and cherish the good and the bad of it all. Whenever the birds come chirping along in my garden and I see them collecting twigs to make their nests, I smile. That would have made mum happy and so I shall be.
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